Notes from Rachel: What Unpreparedness Teaches Us All

Historically, I am not a good person to ask when it comes to being “race ready.”

I ran my first marathon in Galveston, Texas in 2011. Prior to this marathon, the longest distance I had ran was 19 miles in Seattle in the middle of January. I didn’t take water or food with me on my longest training run. It was raining, so I figured I could just tilt my head and open my mouth if I really needed to. And food? I figured I could make it; I ate oatmeal for breakfast. My foam roller was a wooden rolling pin. My watch was a Timex. My Body Glide was actually not Body Glide but deodorant, rolled out underneath the band of my bra.

Be advised: I am not giving training advice here.

I rolled up to the start line in Galveston with a package of strawberry Clif Bloks. My plan was to take one at mile 13 when I was halfway through. It would be like a landmark. Then if I needed more, I’d eat one every three miles.

The Galveston Marathon consists of two loops around the small island just south of Houston. Most of the runners were just doing the half marathon. When the race started, it was pre-dawn, 55 degrees, and humid. As I turned on to the sea wall for my second loop, the sun came out hot. It was suddenly 80 degrees, 100 degrees of relative humidity, and I was thirsty: straight up Texas at its best. I checked in with my running partner, Ellie. She kind of looked at me and said, “You know, I can’t really feel my arms. Do you think that’s a problem?”

We decided to stop at the next aid station where there was orange Gatorade and Oreos (mile 16). I couldn’t even think about cookies, but I did drink Gatorade and water there. Ellie ate Oreos and pulled herself out of her bonk (and feeling returned to her arms).

Unlike Ellie, I wasn’t an indefatigable, Washington high school track star. I crashed, hard. Like, tears. My mom appeared as if in a haze, waving oranges and jumping at mile 18. Her jumping made me sick. My stomach absorbed nothing. The water swirled around in it.

I limped and wept through the last four miles of that race – or whatever one might call it at that point. At the end, I took my medal and declared “NEVER AGAIN” and I never did. I’ve since run 25Ks, ultras, and half-marathons, but I am haunted by that first marathon in Texas.

If you have not been humbled by running, you haven’t run. It is a fact that running has it out to destroy or humble or collapse you. And there is something glorious and sweet about that innocent stage of running where you take what you have and expect the rain to hydrate you.

Running a marathon is punishing even if you’re prepared. But it doesn’t have to destroy you. If I had known there was a Fleet Feet in Seattle, I bet you I would have gotten myself over there and started asking questions instead of relying on grit, Clif Bloks, stolen shorts, and oranges.

If you’re running the Portland Marathon or Half Marathon, I hope that you’re equipped with more. I hope that if you feel like there’s a hole – something you’re not sure about – that you’ll come to our shops over the next ten days and ask us questions.

For now, here’s a start: in the last five years, these are the top seven items I’ve come to regard as essentials, all of which we conveniently stock in our shops:

  1. Ultima: to be honest, the old formula was gross and I was skeptical about the re-engineered one. Good news – it tastes great and you can get it from us to try out, in case you are planning to stop at Portland Marathon aide stations.

  2. Ultimate Direction Body Bottle: just trust me. Gone are the days of hard plastic bottles. When you drain this body bottle, you can squish it and tuck it into the waistband of your shorts. Then it’s like you’re running free bird again, just like my early marathon training days in Seattle.

  3. Skratch energy chews: small, flavorful, and satisfying, especially the orange ones. It’s like Bloks and my mom’s orange slices collaborated on a nutrition product.

  4. Patagonia Capilene lightweight tee: Patagonia invented layering, and their lightest-weight base layer keeps moisture away from the skin. I cannot emphasize how essential a temperature-regulating piece is for racing and for long distance training. Wearing cotton weighs you down and keeps you at risk for serious chafing.

  5. A decent sports bra: once you’ve found one, you can’t go back.

  6. Socks sans cotton: all the socks we stock are cotton-free. Cotton holds moisture close to the skin and causes blisters, while synthetic fibers like rayon and nylon wick moisture away.

  7. Layer for the chills: we’ll be featuring our newest apparel piece at the Portland Marathon Expo. This time, it’s a great post-race piece, and it’s a sweatshirt. Make sure you have a warmer layer at the end of the race so you can celebrate without freezing over, and stop by our booth to check out our Portland-exclusive design.

Race Ready!

Happy Running! We’ll be cheering you on from the store, located on the race course!

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